Lessing's Radical Popular Enlightenment
This digital edition is currently under construction.The controversy unleashed by the playwright Gotthold Ephraim Lessing's publication of excerpts from a clandestine manuscript by the deist Hermann Samuel Reimarus was the defining theological conflict of the late German Enlightenment. It reverberated long after Lessing himself died in 1781, and knowledge of the dispute was widespread not only among the learned, but also among common people throughout both the Germanic cultural sphere and Europe as a whole.
This digital edition provides a comprehensive overview of the entire conflict, from its initial rumblings through Lessing's censorship and beyond. It includes both Lessing's own writings and refutations published by dozens of major and minor figures. Moreover, it situates these treatises within the broader journalistic culture that carried the heterodox ideas contained in Reimarus's writings from Tuscany to Scandinavia and from the banks of the Thames to the shores of the Baltic.
There are two ways to proceed through this edition. The primary path through the project, as seen in the table of contents accessible in the top corner, guides readers through the texts and various ways to visualize the conflict. The second way to encounter the project is more haphazard and representative of the dizzying array of texts that alternately shocked and engaged readers during the eighteenth century. By clicking between and among the various texts and journals, readers can acquire an appreciation of the intertextual web that brought religious heresy closer to the lives of Europeans than ever before.